Grow Northwest water bill fundraising program slowly gaining traction

Grow Northwest water bill fundraising program slowly gaining tractionMunicipal utility district participation in a new water bill checkoff fundraising program has been modest since it began last year as just six of roughly 80 MUDs in the unincorporated Spring and Klein area have agreed to take part.

The water bill checkoff system in unincorporated Harris County began with the passage of House Bill 2528, authored by state Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, in the 84th legislative session last summer. The bill became effective June 17 and allows water districts to accept donations through a checkoff box on water bills to fund economic development programs, such as those fostered by Grow Northwest, the economic development initiative launched by Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce.

Through this legislation, the chamber hopes to raise $192,000 per year. Prior to the passing of HB 2528, there were little means to secure sustainable funding for community and economic development in the unincorporated areas of Harris County, said Barbara Thomason, president of the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce.

“It allows utility districts in Harris County to partner with us—nonprofit economic development entities—and it allows citizens to participate in funding improvements that should have a direct positive effect on their property values,” she said.

The fundraising system operates under the Open Records Act, and financial reports will be reported.

“We expect to see the checkoff box initiated and some revenue trickle in after February from those utility districts who have been the early adopters,” Thomason said.

The Grow Northwest four-year initiative was launched in fall 2014 and requires $3.14 million to fund its goals, which include increasing law enforcement, improving the community image and recruiting jobs.

Law enforcement coverage

Constables in unincorporated Northwest Harris County are primarily contracted by homeowners associations or MUDs, which leaves the commercial areas with less coverage, Thomason said.

“The commercial areas are underserved with police protection because the neighborhoods contract out for safety and security,” she said. “While the neighborhoods do want the officers to patrol the commercial areas, they will tend to give priority to the areas with the most demand, and the citizens want their officers visible in the neighborhood. It is only natural.”

Grow Northwest aims to reduce year-over-year crime by 10 percent.

“Any level of crime is unacceptable, and while we do not know if our strategies will result in a 10 percent improvement in the four crime categories, we will be watching. It is a worthy goal,” Thomason said.

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said he does not consider the commercial areas as underserved.

“We cater to businesses just as we do the residents,” he said. “We have district units that patrol FM 1960, but as far as being underserved, I don’t believe that,” Herman said.

Herman said there are initiatives from the constable’s office to help citizens protect themselves and their valuables and the directives can be found online at the constable Precinct 4 website.

“Anyone that calls from a business, we respond to the call with police service,” he said.

Rebranding efforts

Monument signs labeled “Cypress Creek Community” and street markers placed in major intersections, which will identify key community entrances, are part of the Grow Northwest rebranding initiatives.

“As a community, we have experienced what it is like to be invisible,” Thomason said. “The Realtors are the first to tell us the area needs a brand—one they can sell. As it is, we are the community between Cy-Fair and The Woodlands, sometimes called the 1960 area. This does not put our beautiful area in the best light. At the same time, subdivisions want to retain their own identity, and so we respect that.”

The four-year cost to design and install monument signs is $610,000. It includes the installation of street markers at 75 intersections.

Business retention

Grow Northwest aims to retain at least 15 businesses per year, and the business retention and expansion program strives to recruit two nonretail businesses to the area.

“Sixty-eight percent of Harris County [area] job growth is from existing businesses, so it is very important to retain businesses to prevent them from going out of the region or—heaven forbid—out of the country,” Thomason said.